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Another GOP Transportation Proposal That’s Really All About Oil Drilling

1:19 PM EST on December 9, 2011

Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee have been working to find $12 billion to fund the transportation bill for the next two years. All their proposals have met with rejection from the committee's Republicans. Here's why: The Republicans have been holding out for a funding mix that would include their favorite Christmas presents -- oil drilling and attacks on conservation.

Seven of the 11 GOP members of the Finance Committee sent a letter to Chair Max Baucus late last week with their suggestions. Here they are:

    • $3.5 billion rescission from the Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing Loan Program
    • $3 billion transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund
    • reclaiming $2.5 billion in transfers over the next 10 years from the Highway Trust Fund to the Land and Water Conservation Fund
    • expanded oil and gas production in Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf ($5.2 billion over 10 years)
    • rescission of other unspent federal funds

The GOP members say the first three rescissions wouldn't be felt much, especially for the programs that routinely bring in more than they spend out.

And then, of course, there's the oil drilling. They've been trying to sneak Alaska oil drilling into just about everything these days, it seems -- and here it is, showing up in this proposal to find $12 billion. Despite the fact that it could take years to earn a dime from oil drilling, the GOP acts like it's the money spigot for everything the government wants to spend -- if only the Democrats would stop being so sanctimonious about caribou babies.

So there you have it: spending cuts and oil drilling, the cure for all that ails the country (and, in this case, the solution for the transportation funding shortfall).

For good measure, the Republicans also suggest eliminating Davis-Bacon requirements that federally-funded projects pay at least a "prevailing wage." So, just in case the ideological assault on environmental causes wasn't enough to freak out the Democrats, here comes an ideological assault on labor rights.

As with everything else related to the reauthorization, it's no use holding your breath for more action on these issues until late January or (more likely) February. Congress's initial target adjournment date was yesterday, but they seem serious about next week being their last week in Washington before the holidays.

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting on a "brewing turf battle" in the House over spending levels --- and, yes, how to fund them:

Rep. Steve LaTourette, at a private transportation meeting yesterday with stakeholders and staffers, said House leaders had approached Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica to suggest paring down the highway bill to two or three years, according to several sources at the meeting. Their plan: fund highway and transit programs at $65 billion to $70 billion a year, using current gas tax receipts, $7 billion from spending down the Highway Trust Fund’s balance and $50 billion from “a secret source.”

Mica is sticking to his guns on a five-year bill (down from the six years he was so insistent about just a few months back). But Politico says House Speaker John Boehner "wants to approve a highway bill that can be sold as a major Republican jobs initiative" more than he cares about a long-term bill that would provide more certainty to the transportation industry. Boehner has been pushing a bill funded by (what else?) oil drilling.

LaTourette acknowledged to Politico that "the energy link was not that strong because it doesn’t produce that much money, so the money is going to have to come from someplace else."

Where would that be? It's a secret.

The word on the street is that, at the same meeting, LaTourette also pledged to seek complete streets language for the transportation reauthorization bill.

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